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Home > Culture and Society

TFT's Edinburgh Diary: Part Two

6 August 2004

The city of Edinburgh is preparing itself for a dreadful onslaught.

Things haven't yet quite reached the exhausting level of frenetic insanity that defines the fringe festival, but you can see various things limbering themselves up in what feels like a half-hearted rehearsal for the madness to come.

While it is currently still possible to walk along the Royal Mile without being confronted by aggressive publicity campaigns, certain sights hint at what will soon hit the place. A man in a dress dances away to Latin American music. Groups of girls with fluffy antennae flock down the street and get in the way of taxis. A woman on roller skates dressed as an angel croons into a microphone. Large phallic totems are erected to enable people to stick posters all over them - some efficient groups have done just that, ready for other groups to stick different posters up over the first lot of posters. And - horror of horrors - human statues have started to show their unwelcome presence.

It's a simple concept: they paint themselves a different colour, wear something to match, and stand very still (some don't even bother doing that). In a fair world, they would then be mocked and possibly spat at. But for reasons I can't comprehend, this doesn't happen. What happens is, the talentless painted person gathers a huge crowd which give lots of their money to the human statue. People who won't even glance at a carefully designed flyer, or stop and listen to an improvisation group giving hilarious guidance on emergency procedures, will stand in mute appreciation of a man who has painted himself blue.

Is it any wonder that the locals have become increasingly suspicious and bitter, hiding in pubs and muttering 'wankers' into their pints?

The Uncertainty Division has, of course, been throwing itself into all these preparations with abandon. But although we have been mingling with people and trying to sell our show to all of them, I am conscious that everybody here is also trying to sell a show. I have spent many hours nodding and smiling as somebody describes their show to me, in return for the privilege of telling them all about my show while they nod and smile. I never have any intention of remembering a word of what they say to me, so perhaps I shouldn't really kid myself that they're at all interested in what I'm saying either.

Some of the other shows have started already. I made it along to the first performance of 'The Elephant Woman' by Population:3 (Pleasance Courtyard), which was an exercise in Victorian clichés and bizarre props. Any show that opens with an onstage caesarean birth must have something going for it, and while some jokes didn't quite hit the mark there is a lot to enjoy here. And a scene involving forks which I liked very much.

I had even more fun at a piece called 'Love-Life' by Bad Ash Productions (C o2), a two-man show offering advice about life. And love, and stuff. Very polished and genuinely funny. It's well worth searching the fringe for these gems, as some of the best shows turn out to be the more obscure ones.

Speaking of which, we've been doing our final rehearsals. "But how do you rehearse a show if it's improvised?" people say, which is a bit like saying to a tennis player "but how do you practice for a match if you don't know what's going to happen?" Doing a show without rehearsing would be like doing a technical rehearsal without working lights.

On Monday we did a technical rehearsal without working lights. As a result it was arguably not really a technical rehearsal at all.

On Wednesday we had our dress rehearsal. "But how do you dress for a show if..." etc. Well, of course it wasn't really about rehearsing the clothes, it was a chance to run through the whole thing and see if we can get in and out of the theatre in the twenty seconds we are allowed between the shows on either side of us.

During this particular rehearsal the narrative took an unusual turn and developed into a rock opera about Fidel Castro. It was so much fun that we feel we'd rather like to incorporate it into every show. Shoehorning Fidel Castro into different improvised narratives each night might prove a challenge, but I'm sure it would be worth it.

Either that, or I will actually write 'Fidel - the Rock Opera' and bring it to Edinburgh next year. It's surely the kind of thing that would draw a crowd. Especially if I cast a human statue in the role of Castro.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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